Archive for the ‘Leadership’ Category

When everything is a priority then nothing is a priority

October 16, 2017

Combo 1

Things I learned in the US Army include life lessons in balancing requirements. When everything is a priority then nothing is a priority. Without priorities the inevitable outcome is often either nothing gets done or on time. We face this reality every day – that is why I always set out what needs to go along with me to work the night before. In the morning if its not ready to go – its not going. But what happens if everything needs to go at the same time? The reality is – its not going to happen so what then?

I found myself in this exact situation the fall of 1995 while conducting a field training exercise out in the hinterlands dispersed somewhere in Germany. the situation was this – in the middle of a complex and geographically separated training event I found myself responsible to ensure that complete logistics were set in place for the next training event. While normally this is expected, in this case I was IMG_2361 near Köln and the next event was near Grafenwöhr approximately 378 km (234.8 miles) distant. What’s the big deal? Just complete support for three area signal support companies, a signal support company and a headquarters company? The task was only hundreds of soldiers and vehicles, the logistics requirement for physical space to occupy and set up communications and motor operations, beds, showers, and toilets required, and dinning facility plans. Creating and locking in a plan with out cell phone or internet connections from 200 plus miles away while certainly doable today, in 1995 was daunting.  In those days Face-to-Face was required.

Ball OrangeThis is where I learning about the juggling ability to “continuously toss into the air and catch (a number of objects) so as to keep at least one in the air while handling the others, typically for the entertainment of others.”  Except in this case there was no entertainment and just your career on the line. Failing as a battalion primary staff office was not an option.  I learned then that life, work, relationships will each direct more requirements at you than you can possible get done at the same time or on time.  The sooner you Type A perfectionists accept this fact the sooner you can get on with managing your requirements.  For me as part of the “Zero Failure” Army culture, I squirmed and stressed like a freight train headed for the cliff Ball Whiterunning out of track! Enter the sage advice or our S-3 Operations Officer, Major Randy Ponder (my eternal thanks and notably absent form this conversation was my boss the Battalion XO; Major Allen Loccino). Thankfully the S3 took pity on a young Captain who he could see was clearly in distress and this is what he taught me.

The Army (and Life) will throw more tasks and situations at you than you will be able to handle. The Army (and presumably Life) knows that you cant get it all done and that is part of the “test” to make sure you learn how to differentiate and prioritize. Tasks and requirements are like the items juggles use and can be thought of as made out of different materials like wood, rubber or glass.  Some you can drop and they will just sort of stay there where you dropped them without big consequences. Some can be dropped for a short period knowing they Ball Yellowwill bounce right back up to be grabbed and put back into the juggle rotation with little harm or notice.  However, some tasks are like glass – if you miss the hand to hand control and these glass balls drop, look out because shattering happens on impact. The key of course is to know and understand which tasks are like which materials?  Take an everyday time consumer: EMAIL. Not all email must be responded to immediately and in fact, most email (especially if your are on the CC: line) are like a solid wood ball – you can drop most of them because nothing is really required but to file for recall later.  Some email are like a rubber ball – you can leave them alone in the received mail for later review. You might even reply back to the sender and ask for additional clarification (thus gaining a bit more time to take the requested action). These emails will get worked eventually. However some email demand response and action – these are the fragile hollow glass balls that have to be acted on.  Broken 1

One of the keys to understanding which tasks are which, is a sub-lesson to learn and guard against. Sometime the tasks you like least are the glass ones. These are the ones you wont be interested or like working on because often  rubber or wooden balls are more fun to work on, less risk of failure or just easy. We spend our time juggling these when in fact we should have been focused on that glass ball that we just missed and shattered. Now we have to sweep it up and suffer pain from the sharp slivers of glass that could have been avoided had we the right focus. We cant keep them all in the air but some we have to.

How did I solve my predicament? I delegated some of the more rubbery and wooden tasks to my logistics staff during the existing field event and then worked out a plan to recon Grafenwöhr with the Headquarters company leadership. We left one activity and drove out and coordinated the Combo 2support necessary for the next. Seems obvious right – except when you are the person responsible you often feel like you “have” to be the one on the scene ready for the issues as they occur.  Sometimes yes – by maybe if your operation is underway, the risk can be low enough to move on to prepping for the next requirement and that is what I did.

So there it is – life is a lot like juggling all the daily requirements we face. They key is to identify them one at a time and decide if this is something I have to do right now or can be  delegated or deferred with acceptable risk? We have to know which are the glass balls and continually focus to ensure they and always up in the air until complete. With a little luck – you wont drop one.

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Learning to “Embrace the Suck”

January 11, 2016

Lessons I learned From My Executive Officer (XO).  Deploying about five hours from Bad Kreuznach Germany to the Grafenwoehr training area Germany, February 1995. We arrived at the training area back entrance perimeter road just as night was falling and found the route unimproved and loaded with snow and ice.

Our convoy consisted of HMMWV vehicles, 2 1/2 (deuce and a half) trucks and 5 ton wreckers.  All had to stop and chain up and the deuce and a half’s just would not cooperate.  Because it was getting late and the assembly area was not identified nor were there heated billets open and ready; as the battalion logistics office I was responsible so moved ahead with a small team to begin the coordination. We needed to have the footprint ready for the headquarters company and three signal companies headed in an hour plus behind us.

There were no company areas established, no tents, cots, warm food or latrines ready when we were finally guided to our battalion position. Most of our headquarters company column was still out on the road chaining truck tire chainup in the deep snow in the darkness and now I learned that the deuce and a half blew a tire in the process.  Three signal companies were converging from different routes on our location and we were not ready to receive them. Everyone including company commanders were complaining it was cold, their assigned terrain was crappy, there were no portable latrines, no miramite cans of hot food.

We all wanted to give up and just do nothing, catch some sleep sitting in our vehicles until the next day and the hell with the guys out there trying to replace those tire and get chained up.  That’s not the way operations works and one of the greatest lessons I learned from my XO was when things are at their worst you have to “put on your rucksack,” embrace the suck and keep going. I remember distinctly him saying “what do you want to do, just go lay down in the snow and die?” because there was no one else who is going to solve our problems.mermite cans

So little by little we made a list of all the things that need to get done that evening to get the battalion back on its feet, get all the soldiers and vehicles accounted for, coordinate for some sort of food, get the vehicles in place and refueled, set up perimeter security and find a warm barracks that we could use for the night and rotate soldiers for a sleep plan.  We sent out a reconnaissance to go find the remainder of the column on the backside of the training area and guide them into our assembly area. We sent out another reconnaissance to go meet with the training point of contact and find warm billeting for that evening. We distributed MREs for the meal that night and contacted the logistics support unit to bring in mobile latrines so soldiers could take care of themselves. tent in snow

I think that’s the thing about leadership – the leader has to be relentless in enforcing the standards for the organization; be willing to stand up and provide the direction to everyone else even when they don’t to do anything at all.  The leader has to have the confidence to stand up and say  “let’s get going, let’s get this done, and let’s move out.” Sometimes we all don’t want to keep on going and it would be much nicer to just stop, sit down and take a rest in place and try again tomorrow. That decision might be a killer one and the right thing to do is to get up and keep going, embrace the suck and always keep moving forward.

 During his Army career, the author served in a broad diversity of acquisition, command and staff positions and has combat experience in both Iraq and Afghanistan first deploying to Southwest Asia in 2004/05 then re-deployed to Kuwait and Afghanistan in 2006 and again to Kuwait and Afghanistan in 2008-2009. His last deployment was to Afghanistan summer of 2009 supporting the Combined Security Transition Command- Bosina 1995Afghanistan. His prior assignments include Executive Officer, Army Acquisition Support Center, Fort Belvoir, VA. Commander, Defense Contract Management Agency, Northrop Grumman, Azusa, CA, and Chief of Mission Support (Contingency Contracting) United States Army, South, Fort Clayton, Panama from where he traveled to and supported operations from Honduras, Nicaragua, and El Salvador. From 1988 to 1997, he served in a extensive range of operational command, leadership, and staff assignments in the 1st Cavalry Division, the 2nd Infantry Division (Korea), the 7th Infantry Division, and the 1st Armored Division (Germany and Bosnia).